NOTE: This is a research-based article. I have never visited Ukraine and none of the photos in the article belongs to me. I write research-based articles for visa-free countries to help plan Indians visit these countries.

Ukraine, the largest country in Europe, has a vivid history and rich culture. Sitting at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, it is a patchwork of traditions. And despite its architectural, cultural and natural brilliance, it is largely unexplored, making it an ideal destination for travellers seeking authentic experiences. Its cities house quaint plazas, Soviet-era buildings, World War-era Jewish neighbourhoods, modern high-rises, Crimean Tatar cafes and traditional restaurants serving home-cooked food.

For outdoor lovers, there are the mighty Carpathian Mountains in the west, the Black Sea in the south and the Danube and Dnipro rivers in between. You can go hiking, camping and mountain biking in the Carpathian or head to the Black Sea for beach parties and water sports. The Danube and Dnipro Rivers provide prime opportunities for wildlife spotting, and Ukraine’s countryside will introduce you to a culture and lifestyle little known even to most Ukrainians. Travelling in Ukraine will give you unmatched experiences.

Visa

Ukraine recently announced a tourist visa on arrival (single entry) for Indian citizens, making it the first European country to do so. Ukraine tourist visa on arrival can be obtained at Boryspil, Kyiv and Odesa International Airports for ₹6,100 (2550 Ukrainian Hryvnia) and is valid for 15 days.

For Ukraine visa on arrival requirements please check here.

Why travel to Ukraine

Here’s why you should travel to this stunning country:

Lviv

Lviv-Opera-Ukraine

Lviv is a Bohemian dream come alive. You will be possessed by its laid-back Old World vibe and the friendly locals will merrily take you to one of the many charming cafes and bars in this cultural capital of Ukraine. Walk the narrow medieval cobblestone streets in the UNESCO-recognised Old Town and gaze at the architectural marvels painstakingly built by Galicia-Volyn, Austro-Hungarian and Polish empires.

Start at the Rynok Square, the heart of Lviv for 500 years; next up, visit the medieval Bernardine Monastery designed following Renaissance, Mannerism and Baroque styles; for another Renaissance monument, head to the impressive Italian Courtyard built in 1580; end your day exploring Virmenska Street, home of the Armenian community with its unique culture and architecture.

Odessa

Odessa Beach Ukraine

Pearl of the Black Sea. The name itself is intriguing and the city of Odessa justifies it. Ukrainians rush to Odessa for its mild climate, topaz waters, boisterous parties and powdery beaches. Yet, outside Ukraine, it still remains one of the best-kept secrets of Eastern Europe. Odessa’s architecture rivals its beaches with a unique co-existence of Art Nouveau, French and Soviet-style buildings.

Visiting Odessa is about indulging in the simple pleasures of life. Shop in the kaleidoscopic open-air markets of Odessa for local berries, jellies and homemade liquor; catch a music performance at the Odessa Opera House; sample local delicacies in one of the many quirky restaurants here; and then there is the blue and beautiful beach awaiting you.

Carpathian National Nature Park

Carpathian National Park, Ukraine

From one pearl to another. The Carpathian Mountains are known as the Green Pearl of Ukraine. Humble grey mountains rise amidst verdant valleys harbouring rich flora and fauna. This part of Ukraine is true bliss for nature lovers with a harmonious blend of mountains, forests, meadows, shepherds and hillside villages. And, there are many ways to explore these parts.

You can opt to hike one of its thousand-plus hiking trails; rent a bike and ride down its winding roads passing through Alpine meadows; camp next to a mountain lake; observe the rich avian life around the water bodies; go river rafting and taste Carpathian cuisine in traditional mountain villages. The Carpathians are well connected to the rest of Ukraine by trains and marshrutkas.

Kiev

Kiev-Cathedral-Ukraine

Kiev has one foot in the modern and one in medieval times. It runs at a faster pace than the rest of Ukraine, yet it has laid-back corners that have totally forgotten about time. It houses modern high rises next to UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The capital of Ukraine has something for everyone.

Admire the golden domes and 1000-year-old mosaics of the timeless St. Sophia Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; visit the other equally impressive UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Monastery of the Caves; walk down the cobblestone streets of Andriyivskyy Descent to get your fix of Old World vibes; check out the open-air markets for souvenirs and homemade delicacies; sample cuisines from different parts of Ukraine.

Palanok Castle

Sitting atop a volcanic hill, the medieval castle of Palanok is one of the highlights of Ukraine. Its fortification and defence systems are quite complex and require time to understand. Numerous European empires have fought for control of this strategic castle. During your visit, look for the architectural marks of Kyivan Rus, Podillian, Austrian and Transylvanian empires. The views from the top are impressive with small villages sitting amidst a vast expanse of the green valley.

Cuisine on offer

Ukrainian cuisine has developed in isolation and is an eclectic mix of modern urban dishes and slow-cooked rural delicacies. Ukrainians use fresh and locally-sourced ingredients to prepare delightful dishes.

Vegetarians can enjoy dumplings, potato pancakes, stuffed cabbage rolls, potato pies, spinach in breadcrumbs and of course the vegetarian borscht. Syrniki and nalisniki are a couple of unique delicacies for dessert lovers.

Ukrainians are a friendly bunch and nothing signifies it more than the number of vodka rounds they will buy you and the toasts that will follow. Speaking of alcohol, it is what keeps them warm during the chilly winters. Here is what they like – honey mead, homemade wines, nalyvka and nastoyanka (homemade fruit and berry liqueur) and horilka the prized vodka that Ukrainians swear by. Tantalising and quirky non-alcoholic beverages worth trying are kvass, syrivets, uzvar, ryazhanka, kefir and baked milk.

When to go

May to September is the best time to travel throughout Ukraine with temperatures ranging between 15 to 25 Celsius. The Carpathians skiing season runs from November to March.

Getting around

Ukraine’s major cities have good public transportation in the form of buses, trolleybuses, metros and street trams. Marshrutkas are intercity and intracity buses or minivans run by private companies that stop wherever passengers request. They are a nice way to experience local culture as most Ukrainians prefer marshrutkas over government-run buses.

An extensive network of buses and trains can take you to different parts of Ukraine as well as other European countries. You can book trains here and bus bookings can be made here.

Costs

Flight from New Delhi to Kiev: ₹27,000 (avg. round-trip cost)

Intercity bus ticket: ₹1,400 (avg. one-way cost)

Taxi starting tariff: ₹17/km

Hotel stay: ₹1,100

Hostel stay: ₹500

Meals for one day: ₹500